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Thesis Investigates the Female Voice and Identity

College of the Arts Students Erin Miller-Bartosch Photo

I began my studies in the music department of Cal State Long Beach in 2004 as a vocal performance major. While completing my Bachelor of Music, I was active in the choral and opera programs, and benefitted from the department’s outstanding faculty. After graduating in 2009 and spending three years as a professional singer and actress, I realized that I missed the challenges of the academic world and decided to return to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Musicology.

As a graduate student I have had the privilege to work one-on-one with the Musicology faculty who have guided and supported me through my studies and research. Due to this support, I had the opportunity to teach my own section of Music Appreciation in the spring and fall semesters of 2014, which was an invaluable experience for me as a future university educator.

College of the Arts Students Erin Miller-Bartosch Photo

I am currently writing my Master’s thesis, which focuses on three female, Latin-American protest singers that I have connected to the Nueva Canción movement. Nueva Canción is both a musical genre and a social and political movement in Latin America, which began in the late 1950s in Chile as an effort to collect and revive folk music traditions of indigenous cultures. Artists first sought to recreate these indigenous traditions, and then began to utilize them to create their own new music, which was often politically charged and highly poetic.

The purpose of my research will be to investigate the female voice and identity within the Nueva Canción movement through careful examination of the lives and music of influential singers Violeta Parra (1917-1967) of Chile, Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) of Argentina, and Susana Baca (1944- ) of Peru. I am exploring how these artists used their voices to represent the marginalized groups in their respective experiences, taking into consideration gender and feminist readings of meaning and identity, and hermeneutic meanings in texts and poetry. I am also studying how the artist’s self-identification contradicts or confirms how their contemporaries, and ultimately how history, has thus far catalogued them.

College of the Arts Students Erin Miller-Bartosch Photo

My methodologies are based on third wave feminist theory applied to music established in the 1990s by Rebecca Walker who posed that an overtheorization of “woman” and “gender” diminishes the importance of the individual. In this spirit, I have focused my research on three individual artists in the hope that broader conclusions may then be drawn regarding women, protest song, and Latin American identity. For each case study, I have first contextualized their particular political and social environments, as well as their biography. With this information, I then focus on primary sources from the artists, in their music and any interviews, writings, or lectures, in order to establish a clearer picture of their message, and self-identity. Through analysis, I have found that the texts of the artist’s songs carry many coded messages which reference a number of issues, including cultural, national, and personal identity, anti-government sentiment, and most often, the power and duty of “the singer” to raise their voice for the voiceless.

Thus far, I have found that as with many studies on women, the subjects display multiple identities and messages depending on a number of variables, including age, context, and mode of vocality (spoken or sung). For example, the Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa spent the majority of her career singing anti-government protest songs. Yet, when asked if she considers herself a “protest singer” in an interview later in her life, she rejected the title. This information, along with a number of other instances, has created a dichotomy between artist identity and historical and contemporary receptions from peers, the audience, and the media.

College of the Arts Students Erin Miller-Bartosch Photo

I have had the opportunity to share this research at a number of national and international conferences, and my paper “Susana Baca and the feminine voice of Nueva Canción,” presented at the AMS/SEM Southwest Chapter Conference in 2014, was chosen to be included in the conference proceedings publication. For my future doctoral dissertation, I would like to expand my work to extend to Latin American diasporic communities, specifically in the Los Angeles area, and explore the role of music in the recent immigration reform movement.

The College of the Arts and Bob Cole Conservatory of Music has been an incredibly supportive environment for me during my studies and has instilled in me an enthusiasm for learning and teaching. Using what I have learned here, I intend to graduate with my MA in Spring 2015, and then move forward to pursue a PhD in Musicology or Ethnomusicology.

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